Germany – The International Lutheran Study and Visitors’ Center in Wittenberg (also known as the “Old Latin School”) bid a formal farewell to its retiring Managing Director and installed his successor in a festival service on Sunday, August 14.
The service, held at the Town Church of St. Mary, the “mother church of the Reformation,” marked the retirement of Rev. David Mahsman, a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), who served seven years in the position. During Rev. Mahsman’s tenure, the rebuilding of the “Old Latin School” (originally built in 1567) was completed, and the new center dedicated in May 2015. Rev. Mahsman and his wife, Lois, return to the United States around September 1 to live in St. Louis, their former home before moving to Germany.
The service included the formal induction of Kristin Lange as the new Managing Director for the Center. Lange, who hails from Kansas, studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin and works effectively in both English and German. Conducting the formal farewell and induction ceremony was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, the LCMS Assistant to the President for Church Relations. “The focus of the Managing Director’s work will obviously change now,” commented Dr. Collver, “since the building is complete. Now comes the task of shaping the Old Latin School into an active gathering point for confessional Lutherans to meet, study, and get to know church partners from around the world.” Dr. Collver went on to note that the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran churches, is working to intensify its ties with the Old Latin School—a relationship indicated clearly on the building’s signage.
Serving as officiant for the service was Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) and Chairman of the ILC. The SELK and LCMS have been sponsoring churches for the Old Latin School project since its inception. Bishop Voigt was assisted at the worship by SELK pastors from parishes near Wittenberg, as well as by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, who served as the original project director prior to Mahsman’s arrival. Preacher for the service was President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church-Canada. In his German-language sermon, President Bugbee emphasized the heartbeat of the Old Latin School’s mission: to introduce needy people to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luther’s old Town Church reverberated with festive organ music provided by Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, an LCMS missionary.
The Old Latin School’s prime location at Jüdenstrasse 38 is just steps away from the Town Church’s main portal. The center includes offices, hotel accommodations, a lecture hall, kitchen facilities, and a chapel. In addition, Concordia Publishing House has many materials for sale in the center’s bookstore. The new director, Kristin Lange, also has her residence in the building, which has a busy calendar going into the Reformation 500th Anniversary year in 2017.
BELGIUM – From June 1-5, 2016 Lutherans from several European Lutheran churches assembled in Antwerp, Belgium, for the 24th European Lutheran Conference (ELC), under the theme ‘Reformation then … and now.’
The conference was attended by ELC member churches representatives from Belgium, Denmark, England, France, and Germany, as well as by guests from the Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.
A keynote address on the conference’s theme was delivered by Dr. Werner Klän of Germany. An opening service, morning devotions with Bible studies, and evening prayers shaped the spiritual frame of the conference. Several of the guest churches in attendance have expressed their intention to apply for membership in the coming years.
A special focus of this year’s conference was the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp, which was founded in 1566. From June 2-3, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) hosted an international conference highlighting this event, organized by ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem in cooperation with the University of Antwerp, and held at the Rubenianum.
The conference was opened with two keynote lectures: “The International Dimensions of the Wittenberg Reformation” by Dr. Robert Kolb (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri), and “Reformation Movements and the Wonderyear: the Antwerp Context” by Dr. Guido Marnef (University of Antwerp). The second day of the conference featured six additional lectures: “The Role of Antwerp’s Reformed Augustinians in the Early Reformation” by Dr. Robert Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa); “Humanists on the Move: The Transfer of Ideas Between Wittenberg and Antwerp” by Dr. Victoria Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa); “The First Lutheran Congregation 1566–1585 and Beyond” by Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Lutheran Church of Antwerp, Belgium); “Polemics, Church Order and Confession: Matthias Flacius Illyricus in Antwerp during the ‘Wonderjaar’ 1566/67” by Dr. Luka Ilic (Leibniz Institute, Mainz, Germany); “Christopher Plantin, Printing for the Reformation” by Dirk Imhof (Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium); and “The Image Debates in the Low Countries: an Art Historical Review” by Dr. Koenraad Jonckheere (Ghent University, Belgium).
The conference concluded with a walking tour through 16th Century Antwerp, ending with a reception at the Town Hall, where Antwerp’s mayor Bart De Wever welcomed the participants.
The European Lutheran Conference concluded with Divine Service on June 5. ELKB President and local pastor Gijsbertus van Hattem led the liturgy, while President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark preached.
The next conference of the European Lutheran Conference will be held in England in 2018.
All of the member churches of the ELC are also member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
North European and North American churches plan to share theological resources.
GERMANY – Following an invitation from the Commission on Theology (CT) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), representatives of various commissions on theology from Lutheran churches in Europe and North America met in Oberursel, Germany March 4-5, 2015. This meeting served the purpose of exchanging information about the proceedings and results of theological endeavours facing the challenges in—for the most part—post-Christian societies in the North Atlantic part of the world. Thus, the first day of the conference was filled with reports delivered by the participants, who hold a confessional Lutheran position. In the evening the conference participated in the Lenten service held at St. John’s church, Oberursel (SELK).
On the second day SELK’s Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (SELK) led Matins. It was followed by a presentation on “The Relationship of Church and State as Reflected in the Understanding of Marriage,” given by Dr. Werner Klän, professor of systematic theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Oberursel. Based on preparatory papers and a document only recently issued by the SELK Commission on Theology, Klän addressed the biblical and confessional understanding of marriage and the church wedding, especially with regard to the German situation since the 19th century. He pointed out that, if the state would revoke the privilege and precedence of marriage currently guaranteed in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, compared to other forms of living together, then churches would have to restate the basic biblical assumptions underlying matrimony, the question of establishing ecclesial jurisdiction concerning marriage, and so forth.
The discussion following the presentation identified similarities and differences for Lutherans in other nations. All agreed that the classical biblical, Lutheran understanding of marriage is being challenged in many ways, and that solutions to these challenges cannot be found easily. The topic of same-sex marriage legislation was of particular discussion, with emphases placed on the crisis of gender identity as well as the status and function of the legal protection of matrimony.
Participants in the conference agreed that the meeting contributed to discovering the common confessional grounds shared by the various church bodies, the similarity of challenges confronting them, and the diversity of contexts in which these churches exist. Participants decided to share as many theological documents as possible from their respective church bodies with the others, in order to communicate the results of theological research addressing the crucial questions of our time and day from a Lutheran point of view.
There was general support for plans to hold a second meeting in about three years’ time. Participants wished to have more time for discussion at the next meeting, and suggested future issues for consideration, including the “two realms”, ”natural law”, Luther’s position on Beruf/vocation, Islam, and mission. The CT of the SELK was asked to organize such a meeting, and Bishop Voigt agreed that the SELK would host such a follow-up conference.
Participants at the 2015 meeting included representatives from Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, England, Canada, and the United States of America. Church bodies represented included the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (ELKib), the Mission Province in Sweden, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCI), the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession (SCEAV), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
Adapted from a report by Dr. Werner Klan, March 3, 2015
GERMANY – In the lead-up to 2014 Reformation Day observances, the journal IDEA (a prominent evangelical German publication) featured an interview with Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany. In addition to leading SELK, Bishop Voigt serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.
The interview was conducted by Karsten Huhn and attempts to answer the question: “What is the significance of the Reformation today?” Throughout the discussion, Bishop Voigt ends up speaking on a number of topics, including liturgy, confessional Lutheran witness, the nature of ordination, and the Reformation in 2017.
IDEA: Bishop, you lead a rather unusual church. Liturgically the SELK is almost catholic; its organizational form is that of a free church; and spiritually you try to be more Lutheran than the [State Church] Lutherans.
Voigt: I do not consider ourselves to be unusual. But I can understand that people are somewhat astonished. Yes, our worship services are quite liturgical. But we also use some newer forms of worship; but that is more a case of normality and exception. Financially we are organized as a free church: We do not participate in the church tax system; rather we depend on free-will offerings. Our synodical and episcopal structure is not typical for a free church. And whether we are more Lutheran than other churches? We attempt to organize our spiritual life in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions. We respect them as fully adequate expositions of the Holy Scriptures.
The interview continues from there. Members of the International Lutheran Council will find it an insightful look at the position of confessional Lutheranism in Germany. Read the interview in German here and in English here.
In addition to leading SELK, Bishop Voigt serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.
FINLAND – Following an invitation from the Bishops’ Conferences of the Mission Provinces of Sweden, Finland, and Norway, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt visited Helsinki as chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and as presiding bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany.
During the meeting, Bishop Voigt made two introductory presentations. In the morning he reported on the history and the purpose of the ILC. He pointed to the fact that many member churches of the ILC were founded as a result of the Lutheran confessional renewal in the 19th century; others resulted as a gathering of Lutheran refugees and settlers in the 19th and 20th century as Mission Churches.
In the course of the discussion, Bishop Voigt issued an invitation to the Scandinavian Mission Provinces to begin discussions with the Executive Committee of the ILC about the possibility and the modalities of membership in this global organization. At the same time, he expressed his understanding of the pastoral practice of the mission dioceses in not urging individual members of their parishes to leave their respective Lutheran state churches, but rather to bear those tensions that a struggle for the true unity of the church imposes.
In a further presentation during the afternoon session, Bishop Voigt spoke on developments and special challenges currently facing SELK. In the subsequent discussion he indicated his pleasant surprise to discover parallels between the Old Lutheran revival movements in Germany in the 19th century and the present-day developments in the Scandinavian mission provinces.
Bishop Risto Soramies of the hosting Evangelical Lutheran Mission Province of Finland thanked the participants for the meeting. He expressed his hope that contacts with the ILC and the member churches can be developed and intensified in the future.
On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia, just one month after the Austrian heir-apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was murdered by members of the revolutionary underground organization Mlada Bosna in the City of Sarajevo. The major catastrophe of the 20th century ran its course, and it bears the seeds of the beginnings of World War II.
At the end of the European Lutheran Conference (ELC) on May 25, 2014, I and some of the other attendees visited the site of the concentration camp Bergen–Belsen. The camp is in close proximity to Bleckmar, where we had held the conference at SELK’s church mission centre, spending days of very intensive discussions with one another. I had been at the concentration camp several times before, visiting with vicars of our church, but never was it a visit that hit so close to home emotionally in the company of these international guests. On several occasions I was moved to tears in view of the documented heaps of corpses, while a brother from Great Britain and one from Denmark stood next to me. All of this had its beginnings in the events 100 years ago.
As we passed through the site’s remains and remnants of the prisoners’ barracks we engaged in some intensive discussions. Some of the points were the following:
1. To consider your guilt and to confess it is not a sign of weakness but of strength
The Australian historian Christopher Clark has published a book entitled The Sleepwalkers – How Europe Went to War in 1914. It is by now a bestseller in Germany—probably, because in it someone finally says that Germany was not the only country that bears fault for the outbreak of World War I. But I consider this question irrelevant, because from the viewpoint of the Christian faith it is not a weakness but a strength to confess one’s guilt.
My brother works as a master craftsman. His whole life consists of repeated measurements and correcting mistakes previously made; no one has ever accused him of a negative view of life because he corrects his errors. Every day our own life is to be measured by the will of God. Asking for forgiveness through Jesus Christ leads us on the right path. And if that is true for the life of each individual Christian, then it is also true for society as a whole, including in politics. The fact that Germany, at first reluctantly but then increasingly in the open, dealt with the topic of and admitted the horrendous injustice perpetrated by the nation, is a sign of strength and not of weakness, however incomplete that process may still be.
2. Admitting guilt is quite different from accepting responsibility
For Lutheran Christians it is important to speak of guilt in as precise a meaning of the term as possible. Particularly in considering historical complexities we should not use the term
flippantly. I personally am not at fault for the outbreak and consequences of two world wars and the incomprehensible destruction of the Jewish people. I bear no guilt because I did not live at that time. I have to confess enough of my own faults, and Jesus Christ is at work daily to deal with my sins.
But at the same time we Germans bear an ongoing responsibility for the consequences of German history in the 20th century. That responsibility implies that we help relieve whatever sufferings resulted from that history and wherever we face any other sufferings. And we need to remind others of this responsibility. There has been little research to date about what our originally German-speaking sister churches in Canada, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia had to contend with during those wars. The mistrust they faced from their fellow countrymen in the new homes and the resulting loss of the German language as well as expressions of enmity are part of that.
3. Nationalism is still a problem today
The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars mark the advance of various forms of nationalism. Now the concept of the nation supplants the concept of the Christian religion. Nationalism is one of the main causes for the outbreak of World War I. It was nationalism that blinded churches of various denominations. For example, Roman-Catholic bishops of French and German dioceses both engaged in war-mongering against one another, even though they belonged to the same church. And the Protestant churches were no better. But the soldiers on the battlefields were completely surprised when they found a Bible or a crucifix in the pockets of their fallen opponents.
Nationalism and national egotisms are still quite prevalent in Europe and the rest of the world. Nationalism has not been eradicated and must still be considered to be competing with the Christian faith.
4. The danger of pseudo-scientific convictions
Pseudo-scientific convictions are dangerous. We see that in the Nazi ideology of National Socialism and its devastating consequences. This ideology attempted to use the theory of evolution to establish, by a process of natural selection and the law of survival of the fittest, a racial theory of social Darwinism. But pseudo-scientific notions can still be encountered today, in certain economic and sociological theories. They are in crass opposition to the Christian faith where love of the neighbor is a major tenet. Christ says: “What you have done to one of the least of these my brethren, that you have done to me” (Matthew 25:40).
5. Majorities can be wrong
These days when I see pictures of cheering crowds and soldiers like those that were sent to face a cruel death in 1914, then I often try to convince my children of the following: “Majorities can be wrong.” Those men and women who tried on July 20, 1944, to end the trauma of the Nazi dictatorship by their attempt on Hitler’s life, were courageous enough to stand against majority opinion. 70 years ago they paid for it with their lives. Christian conscience—because of original sin, often an erring conscience—must always be sharpened by attending to God’s word.
Our democratic societies stand in danger of always accepting a majority opinion as truth. German history teaches that the outbreak of the World War I was a mass supported event, and that the election to the German Reichstag in 1933 took place under generally democratic conditions. The result was the Nazi dictatorship. Majorities can be wrong—to know this is today more important than ever, particularly when the majority opinions in today’s society stand more and more in opposition to the Christian faith.
Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt is Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
EDMONTON – The Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), will receive the honourary Doctor of Divinity degree at Concordia Lutheran Seminary’s Sacred Convocation in late May. News of the seminary faculty’s action in granting this honour was recently announced by Rev. Dr. James Gimbel, CLS president.
Bishop Voigt, a native of the former communist East Germany, served as a parish pastor for 13 years before his election as SELK leader in 2006. In 2010 he became chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), an association of confessional churches around the world. Despite the modest size of his church body, he has become prominent – especially in the past year – for his very courageous witness in support of historic Christian teaching on marriage, and in opposition to abortion on demand. His 2013 Pastoral Letter “Discovering Marriage and Family as Gifts of God” and other public actions won him recognition as “2013 Bishop of the Year” by an interdenominational Christian news service in his country, and more recently a “Declaration of Respect” by the Association of Christian Publicists.
”Concordia Lutheran Seminary is grateful for the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the courageous leadership and ministry of Bishop Voigt,” noted President Gimbel, in announcing this recognition. “In our global age, partnerships are critically important for a faithful adherence to and proclamation of God’s Word for our world. The presence of the Missionary Study Centre at our seminary, and the extensive work done by our faculty in delivering theological education to Ukraine, southeast Asia, and elsewhere testifies to our love of Christ’s mission, not only in Canada, but throughout the world. We hope to form a new generation of pastors as courageous servants of Christ in season and out of season, wherever God has placed us. We thank God for partners and models like Bishop Voigt, and appreciate this chance to highlight his leadership and witness.”
The Sacred Convocation, at which Bishop Voigt is to be honoured, begins at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 30 at the Tegler Centre of Concordia University College of Alberta, directly next door to the seminary. This annual event marks the close of the academic year, and is highlighted by the conferral of academic degrees, as well as the distribution of vicarages and candidate calls. It is a public event, to which pastors, deacons and lay people from LCC congregations are invited.
Concordia Lutheran Seminary, one of the two theological schools maintained by Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), was founded in 1984 and has taken a leading role in the academic and spiritual preparation of pastors, especially in the two western districts of LCC.